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Kustom Tonka Trucks 

Make] Projects 

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build, hack, tweak, share, discover,- 

Kustom Tonka Trucks 

Written By: Todd Lappin 


Drill bit (1) 

Electric drill (1) 

Flathead screwdriver (1) 

Hammer (1) 

Sandpaper (1) 

or a finishing sander wheel 

Socket (1) 


Tonka Classics Dump Truck (1) 
about $20 

Spray paint (1) 

Goo Gone (1) 

or other gunk remover 

Contact paper (1) 

or automotive decal sheet 

LocTite thread-locking compound (1) 
Machine screws (1) 
Masking tape (1) 


Tonka's classic dump truck is big, durable, fun, and extremely yellow. When we were 
expecting a daughter, I hit on the idea of giving her a pink Tonka. And not just pink; I wanted 
to give her a pink Hello Kitty Tonka, a slick mashup of two childhood icons! 

Happily, the venerable Tonka dump truck turns out to be a versatile platform for mods and 
customization. Here's everything you need to know about creating your own Kustom Tonkas. 

© Make Projects 

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Kustom Tonka Trucks 

Step 1 — Buy a classic Tonka dump truck. 

• This isn't as easy as it used to be. Hasbro, the company that owns the Tonka brand, 
recently created an all-new Mighty Dump Truck. The new model is bigger, more modern- 
looking, and a bit more expensive. The older one — which employs the same basic design 
Tonka has used since 1964 — is still offered, but like old Coke, it's now marketed as 
Tonka Classics, and it's getting harder to find. Fortunately, most Toys "R" Us stores still 
carry the Tonka Classics Dump Truck right alongside the newer model, for the bargain 
price of about $20. Cheap! 

© Make Projects 

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Kustom Tonka Trucks 

Step 2 — Deconstruct the truck. 

• Tonka dump trucks are famously 
rugged, and much of their strength 
comes from the simplicity of their 
design. All you need to take one 
apart is a flathead screwdriver and 
an electric drill. 

• Remove the wheels. Use a long, 
thin, flathead screwdriver to gently 
but firmly pry 1 chrome cap off the 
end of each axle. Start by wedging 
the blade under the cap, then roll it 
side-to-side to loosen the cap. Try 
to avoid bending or mutilating the 
caps, because you'll need them 
later for reassembly. Save the 
caps and axles in a safe place, so 
you don't lose them. 

• Remove the tires from the wheels. 
There's no glue holding the yellow 
plastic wheels to the black plastic 
tires — it's just a tight fit. You may 
be able to push the wheels out with 
your bare hands. If not, just place 
the tire facedown over the center of 
a roll of masking tape, and tap the 
axle hole lightly with a hammer. 
The wheel should loosen and pop 
right out. 

© Make Projects 

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Kustom Tonka Trucks 

Step 3 

• Remove the metal cab deck. With 
the wheels removed, turn the 
chassis upside down. Inside the 
front wheel wells, you'll see 4 bent 
metal tabs that hold the metal cab 
deck to the plastic chassis. It may 
take some wiggling, but these tabs 
can be bent straight if you use a 
long flathead screwdriver. Once the 
tabs are straightened and unbent, 
the cab assembly lifts right off the 
chassis. Remove the plastic 
windshield and the rubber exhaust 
pipe, and put them in a safe place 
for later. 

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Kustom Tonka Trucks 

Step 4 

• Remove the dump body from the 
chassis. This is the only tricky part 
of the deconstruction process. The 
dump body is attached to the 
chassis with 2 metal rivets. These 
must be drilled out. Begin by using 
a small drill bit to create pilot holes 
in the the center of each rivet. 

• Using the pilot holes as a guide, 
swap in a 7/32" drill bit to bore out 
the rivet entirely. Be careful! 
Although the metal is tough, the 
plastic chassis is soft, so avoid 
drilling the holes in the chassis 
beyond their original size. It's not 
the end of the world if the holes get 
a bit frayed, but try to minimize the 
damage to the plastic as best you 

© Make Projects 

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Kustom Tonka Trucks 

Step 5 

• Remove the Tonka stickers. The 
stripes on the sides of the dump 
body are easy enough to scrape 
off, and you can remove any 
adhesive residue with Goo Gone. 

• Be gentle when peeling the decals 
from the sides of the cab. If you 
remove them in one piece, they 
can be reused as handy templates 
for making replacement decals that 
match your paint scheme. 

• When you're finished, you should 
have a collection of parts that looks 
like this. 

Step 6 — Prep for painting. 

Out of the box, Tonkas come with 
glossy yellow paint. Stripping the 
gloss from the metal surfaces will 
help your new paint adhere. Use 
very fine grit sandpaper or, even 
better, a finishing sander wheel to 
get rid of the shine. When you're 
done, the old paint should be an 
even, dull yellow. 

© Make Projects 

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Kustom Tonka Trucks 

Step 7 — Bring the color. 

• The truck body can be painted one 
color, and the wheels painted as a 
contrasting accent. On the chassis, 
the grill and gas tanks can be 
masked and painted silver to give 
them a chrome look. Just think of 
the Tonka as a canvas, and paint it 

• The Krylon spray paints sold in 
most hardware stores work just 
fine; just be sure to apply the paint 
in nice, even strokes, and lay on 
several coats to create a hearty 
finish, allowing plenty of time for 
drying between coats. 

Step 8 

• Automotive finishes look better and are even more durable, if you have access to a proper 
painting booth (or if you can convince your local auto body shop to paint a Tonka for you). 
Whatever paint finish you'd apply to a real custom car or truck, you can also apply to a 

© Make Projects 

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Kustom Tonka Trucks 

Step 9 — Rebuild it. 

• Putting a Tonka back together is even easier than taking it apart. Reinstall the exhaust 
pipe and cab windshield to the cab deck, then reattach the cab deck to the plastic chassis 
and secure it by bending the metal tabs inside the front wheel wells. 

Step 10 

• To reattach the dump body to the chassis, replace the original rivets with similar-sized 
machine screws, washers, and nuts. The screw heads go on the outside of the chassis 
rails, and the nuts go on the inside. 

■ IMPORTANT: After you tighten the nuts, apply LocTite adhesive to secure the 
nuts in place. Without the LocTite, the nuts will wiggle loose when the dump 
body is repeatedly raised and lowered. If the nuts fall off entirely, they may become a 
choking hazard. 


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Kustom Tonka Trucks 

Step 11 

• Press the wheels back into the 
plastic tires, thread each axle 
through a wheel and then through 
the holes in the chassis, then slide 
the opposing wheel over the axle 
on the other side. 

• To reattach the axle end caps 
securely without chipping your 
freshly painted wheels, use two 
3/8" sockets. Place one socket on 
your work surface and center the 
fixed axle end cap inside it, facing 
downward. On the upward-facing 
wheel, place the loose end cap 
onto the axle, then slip the other 
socket over it. Give the socket a 
firm tap with a hammer, and the 
end cap should lock in place. 

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Kustom Tonka Trucks 

Step 12 — Add the flair. 

• With your Tonka repainted and reassembled, it's time to add accents and details. Contact 
paper or automotive decal sheets are good replacements for the Tonka stickers you 
peeled off the sides of the cab. Alternatively, if you want a perfect match with the paint you 
used on the body of your truck, but you can't find decals or contact paper in the same 
color, spray a sheet of thin styrene plastic with your leftover paint. After the paint dries, 
cut the styrene to fit (using those old stickers as the template), then glue the trimmed 
pieces to the sides of the cab. 

Step 13 

• If you've got a steady hand and some artistic skill, you can pinstripe your truck or give it 
airbrushed graphics. 

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Kustom Tonka Trucks 

Step 14 

• Laser-cut vinyl decals are an easy alternative, with hundreds of designs available, 

including popular cartoon characters, stripes, and flames. Look for them at your local sign 
shop or hot rod store, or on eBay. 

Step 15 

• Happy motoring! 

To reassemble your device, follow these instructions in reverse order. 
This project first appeared in MAKE Volume 19 . 

This document was last generated on 201 3-01 -05 1 1 :55:32 AM. 

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Kustom Tonka Trucks 

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